Pulitzer win­ner’s pic­tures cap­ture na­tion’s changes

Chi­nese-amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Liu He­ung Shing has been c Zhang Kun catches up with this le­gend of pho­to­jour­nal­ism in Cap­tur­ing China with his cam­era for more than 30 years. n Shang­hai where an ex­hi­bi­tion of his works is on show.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

It has been 30 years since Chi­nese-Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Liu He­ung Shing pub­lished his pho­tog­ra­phy book China af­ter Mao. The Pulitzer-prize win­ner is pre­sent­ing, for the first time in China, 115 of his pic­tures at China Art Mu­seum in Shang­hai, un­til Aug 27. The ex­hi­bi­tion China Dream, Thirty Years spans a 35-year pe­riod of ob­serv­ing the coun­try through his cam­era lens. China has ex­pe­ri­enced un­prece­dented 30 years of dras­tic changes and de­vel­op­ment, the pho­tog­ra­pher says. For many peo­ple in China, this has been a pe­riod of dreams come true.

The coun­try is like a gi­ant ship mov­ing in a new di­rec­tion since 1978, when China started to fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and open up to the world. Liu has wit­nessed and cap­tured the coun­try’s trans­for­ma­tion from col­lec­tivism to in­di­vid­u­al­ism.

Liu’s pic­tures take up two ex­hi­bi­tion halls on the ground floor of the mu­seum. The cu­ra­tor has ar­ranged the ex­hibits in a way that in one of the halls, im­ages fo­cus on col­lec­tive life of China, while the other fea­tures di­verse per­son­al­i­ties and in­di­vid­u­als.

Liu was born in 1951 and spent most of his child­hood in Fu­jian prov­ince be­fore mov­ing to Hong Kong. When study­ing at the City Univer­sity of New York, he read ex­ten­sively about China, com­par­ing what he read with his im­pres­sions from child­hood.

Upon grad­u­a­tion, his en­thu­si­asm about China led him back to the coun­try as a jour­nal­ist.

His first as­sign­ment in China as a pho­tog­ra­pher took place in 1976. He didn’t re­ceive per­mis­sion to go to Bei­jing to pho­to­graph the mourn­ing for Chair­man Mao’s pass­ing, so he stayed in Guangzhou, but he was sen­si­tive enough to find traces of a so­ci­ety ready to change.

“Peo­ple prac­ticed tai chi in the park as usual, but their shoul­ders looked some­how re­laxed, slightly dif­fer­ent,” Liu re­calls.

In 1978 he started to work as the founder and re­porter for Time mag­a­zine’s Bei­jing of­fice.

He was im­pressed with the preva­lence of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion in ev­ery­day life.

One of his most fa­mous works showed work­ers tak­ing Chair­man Mao’s por­trait off the fa­cade of the National Mu­seum of Chi­nese His­tory on the east side of Tian’an­men Square, il­lus­trat­ing the end of an era.

He went on to pho­to­graph peo­ple try­ing on sun­glasses at a com­modi­ties fair, as­pir­ing artists pre­sent­ing their cre­ations along a pub­lic wall, and young lovers man­ag­ing to have a mo­ment of in­ti­macy with­out the lux­ury of pri­vacy.

“I keep my eyes and ears open,” the pho­tog­ra­pher told the me­dia at the open­ing of China Dream, Thirty Years in Shang­hai.

“I hope I can feel China’s pulse in ev­ery pe­riod and show its high­est height and low­est low with my pic­tures when words fail to do so.”

In re­cent years Liu has de­voted lots of time and ef­fort to com­pil­ing photo doc­u­men­taries about China. His book, China, Por­trait of a Coun­try, has been trans­lated into six lan­guages since 2008 and sold more than 250,000 copies all over the world.

In 2010, Liu worked with Bri­ton Karen Smith, a critic and cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary art, to pub­lish Shang­hai: A His­tory in Pho­to­graphs 1842-To­day.

Smith is also cu­ra­tor of Liu’s ex­hi­bi­tion at China Art Mu­seum in Shang­hai.

Pho­tog­ra­phy is greatly dif­fer­ent nowa­days, com­pared with the 1970s when Liu started his ca­reer in China, Smith says.

One could take no more than 36 pic­tures with a roll of film and the pho­tog­ra­pher had to keep his wits about him when­ever he was shoot­ing.

Some­times one might cap­ture a great shot by luck, but most of the time, it is achieved through keen per­cep­tion and un­der­stand­ing of the time and place he is work­ing, Smith says.

Nowa­days ev­ery­body takes pic­tures with dig­i­tal cam­eras and mo­bile phones. Pho­tog­ra­phy is no longer as re­li­able as it can be dig­i­tally al­tered us­ing com­puter pro­gram Pho­to­shop.

Liu says he be­longed to the last gen­er­a­tion of pho­to­jour­nal­ists. Now agen­cies and pub­li­ca­tions will dis­patch their staff mem­bers wher­ever news hap­pens. Jour­nal­ists rarely have the lux­ury of liv­ing for years in a coun­try, sub­merg­ing into the lo­cal cul­ture and life­style.

“I got to see China and di­gest what I saw through pho­tog­ra­phy,” Liu says.

“I hope to present our com­mon mem­o­ries for the past 30 years, when China’s dras­tic changes and de­vel­op­ment has the whole world im­pressed.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to present it with dry statis­tics of GDP, and that’s not my job,” Liu says.

His pho­tog­ra­phy of de­tails of daily life — how peo­ple live, leisure and love — filled the gi­ant gaps be­tween the dry num­bers of his­toric nar­ra­tion. It is the de­tails and per­sonal feel­ings that con­nects to all hu­man be­ings, and makes his pic­tures spe­cial, Smith says.

Prize-win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher Liu He­ung Shing is pre­sent­ing his solo show China Dream,Thir­tyYears, in Shang­hai, of­ferin


Some of Liu’s most fa­mous pho­to­graphs re­veal de­tails of Chi­nese peo­ple’s daily lives — how they live, leisure and love.

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